CARSON, Calif. – Some might think the LA Galaxy could be having a difficult time focusing on Thursday’s CONCACAF Champions League group game against El Salvador’s Isidro Metapan (7 p.m., FOX Soccer, Galavision, 1330 AM, 1220 AM, LIVECHAT) at The Home Depot Center. But nothing could be farther from the truth.
All the Galaxy have to do for motivation – and there is plenty of it - is think of the last time the defending MLS Cup champions were in the Champions League. Specifically, it was earlier this year when fellow MLS side Toronto FC knocked out the reigning Supporters’ Shield winners in the quarterfinals, winning 4-3 on aggregate, including a stunning 2-1 victory at The Home Depot Center on March 14 that was the Galaxy’s first loss at home in more than a year. RECAP: Galaxy fall to TFC in CCL
“I think we’re motivated,” Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena said after Tuesday’s training session. “I think the last time we realized how difficult the competition was. We need to be at our very best in order to get through this group and hopefully position ourselves to be in the quarterfinals and we can have a better showing.”
This latest group play will feature a substantial change, however.
The two-leg Preliminary Round, in which 16 teams faced off in a home-and-home series, was eliminated. All 24 teams now have been drawn into the Group Stage. Each of the eight groups has three teams (the Galaxy’s opponents in Group 5 are Isidro Metapan and the Puerto Rico Islanders) and MLS and Mexican sides were not drawn into the same group.
Each group winner advances to the quarterfinals, which will be played according to previous CCL tournaments.
Isidro Metapan is a six-time Salvadoran champion and one of three teams (along with Puerto Rico and Honduras’ Olimpia) to compete in all five installments of the CONCACAF Champions League.
Led by head coach Edwin Portillo, Metapan, defeated Puerto Rico 3-1 in its first group game on August 1. A second straight win on Thursday night would give Metapan a six-point lead at the top of the group and put them in position to reach the quarterfinals for a second straight competition. Metapan became the first Salvadoran team to reach the tournament’s quarterfinals, doing so in the 2011/12 competition where it lost to Pumas UNAM. That recent run of success is not lost on the Galaxy head coach.
“They are among the best, if not the best, teams in El Salvador,” Arena said.
Galaxy players and coaches were expected to watch video of their opponents on Wednesday and admitted they knew little about them, which can make preparation difficult, to say the least.
“It’s always hard with these games because these are teams we don’t know well,” defender Todd Dunivant said. “They don’t know us well; maybe they heard of one of our players at least.”
The Galaxy do know one thing: they’ll be ready Thursday.
“We definitely have something to play for,” midfielder Mike Magee said. “That loss to Toronto definitely sticks in our craw. There’s still a bad taste in our mouths.”